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Precision pivotal as G-Mac aims to get back in mix

By Brian Keogh

Graeme McDowell and Shane Lowry have the games to win a US Open but both are searching for that vital major-winning ingredient - confidence.

With its links look and its premium on iron play, the 7,445 yard, par-70 Long Island gem should suit both men to a tee.

Their 'problem' is not that the fairways are 41 yards wide on average -15 yards wider than previous US Opens held here- but they have yet to find themselves in the mix on Sunday afternoon this year.

McDowell, the 2010 champion and 2012 runner-up, is arguably the closer of the two since he was named a Ryder Cup vice-captain, finishing tied for 12th in the BMW PGA at Wentworth and fifth in the Italian Open a week later.

"It's lifted all the weight off my shoulders," he said of his Ryder Cup role. "I enjoyed the two weeks in Europe, going back there and having a little bit of freedom in my step.

"The Ryder Cup helped that a little bit, not chasing the FedEx Cup 125 over here, because I've had this little monkey on my shoulder the last few months.

"I'd been playing well and he starts talking, nibbling in my ear at the weekends, 'Hey you can do with a big finish this week so we don't have to worry'.

"It was amazing. I went back to Europe and I didn't have that and was able to free up and play well. At the end of the day, that 125 thing, it is not do-or-die for me. I have got plenty of things to do if I was to lose my card. I could go back to Europe, get a few starts here, it wouldn't be the end of my life.

"I'm not holding a gun to my head, because I'm not that kind of guy. But I will hold a gun to my head on the back nine on a Sunday. I like that kind of gun."

As for Lowry, who tied for ninth at Chambers Bay in 2015 and was joint runner-up at Oakmont two years ago, he's making cuts but still seeking the spark that ignites his game.

"It's close," Lowry said.

"Very close. I am not missing cuts. I am making cuts but finishing down the field.

"It's a decent sign that you are close to doing something. I'm just trying to be patient. Patience is key."

Precision is also a must.

"I like what I see out here," said McDowell, who hated last year's missile-testing festival at Erin Hills. "I didn't see anything out here to upset me.

"It wasn't like Erin Hills last year, where there were five holes where if you could fly it 330, the fairways were 70 yards wide. Apart from 18, there's not a hole out there where I look and go, 'I am at a disadvantage here.' I like the way it sets up.

"I think there is still a premium on accuracy off the tee, but you have to be on with your iron play here.

"With some of these really steep run-off areas, if you get on the wrong side of flags it is going to punish you.

"It's definitely exceeded my expectations."

It's all about adding to that 2010 US Open win at Pebble Beach and he's excited that the big hitters will be made to think twice before letting rip.

"It is a great old track; it really makes you think," he said. "I wasn't expecting it to be this good - very linksy and very authentic.

"There is some rough out there where you will see guys missing in the rough and they are not going to be able to advance the ball. Which is cool.

"It's going to suit a great iron player, so I think if Tiger can get it onto the fairway he is going to compete because of his iron play.

"It is tough to hit driver well, so I think Rors will feel comfortable up here and he's spent a lot of time up here.

"What it is doing is taking the big weapons out of the hands of guys like Rory, Brooks, Dustin. From a strategy point of view, it is pure iron play."

Lowry is trying to conserve his energy heading into his fourth event in a row and his fifth in six weeks.

But after winning his sectional qualifier to make the field, he knows that if he can remain disciplined and patient, he can do well.

"If you make a mistake, I think you just have to get back in position and take bogey," he said. "It's one of those where if you shoot level the first day you are going to be delighted with yourself. It's going to be difficult - a real US Open."

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